Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Aiguille du Fruit NW couloir

A chance message from Yorick last night decided today's plan... I was going to go for a solo recce around the 3 Valleys, but instead we switched on 'mission mode' for a flog up (and blast down) the NW couloir on the Aiguille du Fruit. It has been a few years since I have been up here so it was nice to be back in such good conditions!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Rescue training and pre-Xmas conditions

Yesterday I spent an informative day in La Clusaz talking snow & group management and also running through some rescue scenarios, with trainers from both ANENA (the French Snow & Avalanche research organisation) and also the PGHM (French Mountain Rescue/police). A very useful day - it was also nice to be back in an old stomping ground - La Clusaz was one of the main areas I learned to ski back in the early '80s... I have been meaning to fit in a day or two there for years, and am definitely keen to get back in the winter when there is more of a base down to re-familiarise myself with the many off piste possibilities!

Meanwhile back in the 3 Valleys we have had snow down to about 800m overnight, though it is now mild and getting a bit 'melty' - this should actually work to our advantage in terms of creating a denser base for future snowfalls to fall onto.
Here are a couple of pictures from last week:

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Easy does it, Tigers. (A rant)

This one has been building up for some time (years) so it is probably time to finally put something down on 'paper'.

We are Sunday 9 December 2018, the season is very young (in fact not really begun) and yet already the avalanche reports are rolling in... Yesterday's lucky escape award goes to a lone off piste skier in Val Thorens who triggered a slide and was buried - fortunately the incident was witnessed by other skiers and ski patrol did a great job of locating him (no beacon) and rescuing him (unconscious but still breathing at that point...).

On Friday 2 skiers had a close call, triggering a slab in the Vallon D'Arpy, and on Wednesday 2 skiers also had a lucky escape, having continued to ascend a slope despite numerous 'whoomfs' and a remotely triggered slab. I have also had anecdotal reports of skier-triggered slabs in the Tignes area, and if you go back through the database of Data Avalanche there are plenty more reports of skier-triggered activity.

All of which brings me to a point - no-one has any patience any more.

Now I am no angel, and I have had my share of close calls over the years, fortunately few and far between, but it seems to me more and more that the current modus operandi of the wider skiing populace of "it is white so we will ski" is just adding fuel to the simmering fire of early season conditions. The last 2 weeks there have been constantly variable conditions with precipitation, wind and a fluctuating 0º isotherm all on a very thin (if existing at all) base/snowpack. Heading into avalanche terrain at the moment definitely requires all senses to be on full alert, and maximum respect given to the mountain - despite the thin snowpack and a relatively small slide - 50m x 50m - the Val Thorens skier was buried and only the luck of a probe search found him - deposits were up to 2m deep.

But the ever-increasing hordes appear to skin on without a care, and maybe some of the problem lies with web-isation of ski touring and the massively increased numbers of people partaking these days - I could not believe the number of tourers on the hill 2 weeks ago when I went for a little nosy above Courchevel - conditions were utterly desperate - 2 piste-bashers width thinning to 1 piste basher-width of skiable snow, and yet I was passed by at least 40 people during the hour or so I was skinning. (And yes I was one of those up there so you can call me a hypocrit if you like, but 10 years ago I can remember heading up in good conditions on a powder day with a good base down and seeing maximum 10 other people on the mountain)

And never mind the avalanche conditions, skiing/touring off piste in the pre-season (particularly a really thin one like this year) brings with it a very high risk of 'doing a Schumacher' - even if it not to that extent I can roll off a long list of friends who have ended their season (and nearly ended themselves) in Decembers gone by - a shattered shoulder and pneumo-thorax - 2 (separate incident) broken femurs - a tib-fib, and the list goes on. A report from today on skitour.fr made light of the fact that both skiers did several head-over-heels on the way down, skiing in poor visibility - well that to me is just asking for trouble at this time of year - as my mate Stew will testify, doing a head-over-heels and finding that the head part coincides with a rock is not conducive to good health. Another friend, for whom I have the utmost respect as a skier and a guide, tore out the side of his ski a couple of days back on a high speed 'training lap' on the Hellbronner - there is a fine line between that and a season-ending injury...

Maybe I am just turning into a grumpy old geezer (my wife would certainly not argue that one), or maybe, just maybe, I have seen, heard and read enough over 25 years in the industry to know that early season conditions need a lot of care and maybe. just maybe we all need to get a little bit of patience back into our lives. I am not saying 'do not go touring or off piste skiing early in the season', but it seems to me if skiers are going to ignore woomfs & remotely triggered slides and skin merrily upwards, or go charging hard in shallow snowpacks, that the dice are loaded, and not in favour of the skier.

Rant over - have a good season everyone! (But maybe wait until there is a base down!)

December 2018 - early season conditions & course availability

It has all been rather quiet on the blog of late - work & family combining to keep me away!

Yesterday was opening day for Courchevel and Meribel, and with a CPD day due to keep up to date with all things admin for BASI I met up with 3 colleagues for a day of discussions centred around working off piste - client briefing, terrain choice, new technologies and more were discussed at length throughout the day, with a few turns thrown in for good measure.

The snow in the 3 Valleys is quite thin at the moment, especially below 2300m. Above this there is the beginning of a base of cold winter snow, though plenty more is needed to get the classic off piste routes into viable condition:

Below 2300m there is really just a superficial covering off piste, and a skeleton network of pistes open (as usual for week 1 of the winter) - skiing back to the Chaudanne in Meribel is definitely not for the faint-hearted (or those with new skis!):

Today it is very windy (nothing open) but snowing hard, with the freezing level due to drop towards 800m later, so that should start to make a difference!

Winter 2018/2019 is almost fully booked, but there are still one or two spots left on the following courses:

Off Piste Introduction - The 3 Valleys - 26 Jan - 2 Feb 2019

Vanoise Freeride - 3 Valleys/Paradiski (& more) - 23 - 30 Mar 2019

** Please note: due to an unplanned forced change in web host the www.offpisteskiing.com website is not currently fully operational for the time being **

Please contact us for booking details for the courses.

Meanwhie, to keep the juices flowing for the coming winter here is an inspiring film from Tof Henry:

Born in Chamonix [FULL FILM] from ARMADA SKIS on Vimeo.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Winter 17/18 slideshow

The first dusting of snow hit the summits here in the Vanoise earlier this week, which spurred me into action to put together a little slideshow form last winter (only about 4 months behind schedule !). Are you in there? (And if not why not! :-) ).

offpisteskiing.com Winter 1718 Slideshow from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Winter 2019 dates and summer mountain fun

Apologies to all those waiting for dates for winter 2019 off piste coaching and ski touring courses - I have a mountain of back-logged admin which I am slowly grinding through - a combination of family and work commitments has left me even further behind than last year!

Dates are firming up and are online on the www.offpisteskiing.com website. Details will be added as the details are finalised.
Meanwhile I have been sneaking in the odd day out this summer to keep myself sane. Yesterday i finally got on to a line on the North face of the Aiguille de la Vanoise that I have been wanting to do for years... I haven;t been climbing much this year, so 350m of climbing topped off my a thuggy 6a+ corner crack definitely made the arms feel 'heavy' by the end of it, but a fun route with stunning scenery, close-up bouqetin and marmottes, and a far off gypaete sighting made for a great day - cheers Matt!

North face of the Aiguille de la Vanoise, La Petite Pasquier is a TD route that goes up the big corner plumb centre of the face then trends right to finish in a little breche via a steep corner:

Matt approaching the band of 'velcro' rock at the start of the corner system:

A steep finish with nearly 400m of air under the heels - Matt looking relaxed all the same:

The chap was sat about 10m away while I untangled the ropes on the first abseil - only wandered off afterwards - no wonder they were nearly hunted to extinction!

The classic sharks fin view of the Aiguille:

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Troll peninsula ski touring adventures - second half

...continued from last post...

Wedsnesday dawned bright and clear in Siglufjordur, though the forecast looked less promising for the afternoon.

Plan A for the day:

The bowl to the right of the summit ridge looked smooth, which given Monday's rain/snow was the key to good skiing this week, as anything with rocks above was covered with roller balls or wet sluff...

Very tame ptarmigan:

Good views all round:

As we hit the summit ridge it was looking very gloomy behind the peak, and with sun shining on our descent we decided to leave the summit for another day and make the most of the good visibility and snow.
Ready to drop into our first descent:

A few cms of soft over a smooth base gave very nice skiing!

After a short food & drink break, and with the weather still holding out, we set off back up a different line to the left of the summit:

The weather had been holding so far but as we made our way along the ridge about 50m below the summit the cloud base dropped and we made the pragmatic choice of using the remaining visibility to ski the slopes we had just climbed. Good skiing but flat light so no photos from the main descent, though the run-out to the car was a 5* spring-skiing bonanza, all topped off by randomly bumping into my friend Rick Marchant and his group back at the bottom!

Thursday was a day of evolving plans - plan A was shelved in favour of a rescue mission to find a hat that Chris had left en route yesterday, and with sunny skies and low winds we set off with the idea of skiing the South East face of a peak we had spotted yesterday, which would give us a great run on smooth spring snow... that was the theory until, having found Chris's hat, the wind suddenly picked up as we made our way along the final summit ridge and put paid to any further softening of the snow. Still a nice run down on firm but grippy snow:

Skinning back up we had to brace every few steps as the wind had really picked up!

Once back on the summit ridge we dropped into the relative shelter of the West face and found surprisingly good snow:

Back down in the valley we put skins on again for the climb back up to Kistafjall:

Dropping into the North West face the snow was quite wind-affected for 200m then gave way to a monster pitch of perfect soft snow:

Our final day was forecast to be even windier, so we opted for a quick morning tour followed by a drive round to a geothermally heated 'infinity pool' with stunning views over the next peninsula. All topped off with agreat meal and local beers - not a bad way to end the trip!

Massive thanks to Chris, Rich, Sandy and Dave for a great week - lets see what plans we can come up with for 2019!!

...edit... I had to fly straight out of Akureyri to make my connecting flight to Europe, meanwhile, the team drove back to Reykjavik and took in a natural hot spring along the way - looks awesome! :

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Troll Peninsula ski touring adventures - first half

The Troll Peninsula of Northern Iceland has been on my 'hit list' for a while now and finally this year I managed to fit a trip into my diary running a week of ski touring adventures for a small group of friends.

Having landed in Keflavik and (fortunately) collected all our bags we set off on the long drive North, broken up by a comfortable night halfway, woken to the bizarre sound of snipe 'drumming'. An easy drive the next morning got us onto the peninsula, where a summit just beyond Dalvik was looking quite appealing from the road.

Rich setting off from the road:

Interesting terrain coming into view behind:

First day, first summit and a view as well - result!

Great spring snow on the descent:

Well hello there! With one good run in the bag there was loads of time to go for a second lap and these couloirs were just screaming out to be skied!

A deceptively long bootpack took us up 500m to the ridge:

Looking tasty!

Sandy making the first turns, no place for mistakes...


Mellower angles lower down:

Sandy ripping up the amazing smooth snow on the apron:

Happy team with our line centre stage:

Monday had always looked like it was going to be the worst day for weather, and so it proved, with low lying cloud and intermittent precipitation (sometimes white, sometimes translucent...). We still managed a good short tour and with some cunning navigation found our way to a summit, though the view was not particularly great:

The ski down was better fun than expected, with a layer of heavy powder over smooth spring snow, and we then retreated to our lodge for tea and cakes...

On Tuesday the forecast was for clouds with sunny spells - it turned out much better than expected!

Nice views on the way to our first summit at 930m:

Summit team:

Top of the North couloir looking inviting!

Good cold snow and 40º - sadly this only lasted for 100m or so before yesterday's rain made itself felt, but a fun run down:

The gang about to enter the 'crust zone':

A quick 400m of skinning saw us back on to the summit ridge and we made a second half-lap down a different bowl with a few cms of soft over a smooth base - nice!

A quick skin back up our previous skin track took us back to the summit ridge just in time to see a portal to another dimension open up briefly:

Portal within a portal:

Our last run back to the car took us through a mix of under-cooked, over-cooked and just right spring snow. Once again despite the lean snow conditions low down we managed to make turns all the way down to the road.

A fine day out topped off with some quality fish soup and cake in Dalvik!